Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Chirstmas in China

Well, I have decided to take a study break (finals are next week), and write the slightly overdue posting about Christmas in China.
As I mentioned in a previous posting, Christmas is the Western holiday of gift-giving, Santa Clause and Christmas trees. The Chinese have hit the nail on the head as far as the commercialism of Christmas is concerned, and retailers have cashed in on the general love of all things Western. As I stopped celebrating Christmas a while ago for numerous reasons, I have a slightly different perspective from most of my peers about the way the Chinese celebrate the holiday. I did not long for "real" Christmas trees or the general "holiday spirit", and I did not lament my inability to find beautiful ornaments and the perfect lights. I did not mourn the absence of Christmas Music or the ability to watch It's a Wonderful Life on TV all day, and I did not mull over the Chinese "not knowing the significance of the holiday". Quite frankly, I think that they've hit upon the heart of the holiday, and I have no qualms with the way they acknowledge it. No conflict between what the Bible says and what we actually do, no trying to find a religious holiday amongst the commercialism, no lying (Santa Clause. Jesus' birthday. I can afford all of these gifts.), no unnecessary debt-inducing spending, no competition and fighting on account of the "best" or "perfect" gift, none of that stuff here - not yet anyway. I give gifts and see my loved ones whenever the mood hits me and the money is the bank, so that part of the holiday is not necessary for me. I did miss all of the food, especially those seasonal delights that people make on "special occasions". I think I gained a few pounds just thinking about what I could have been eating a few weeks ago. Aside from that, Christmas here was a mostly a side note, celebrate it if you want, and if you don't, no problem. It is a Western holiday after all, and this is China.
As such, there were Christmas trees and various other decorations to be found in numerous places, especially malls and other retail establishments. In Shanghai, the larger and more expensive malls had quite extensive holiday decorations and advertising. Of course, McDonalds, Starbucks, KFC and other foreign establishments were in the "holiday spirit", as were local establishments that cater to foreigners. There were fake trees on sale in the larger stores, as well as holiday decorations and such. The selection wasn't vast, and I heard that they were mostly tacky, but they were there. I saw Chinese teenagers writing Christmas cards to one another, and some people exchanged gifts. However, it was not overwhelming in any respect. In fact, in most places it was barely noticeable. On my way to work, for example, I take a route that does not go through any major commercial centers or foreign dense areas, and I saw very few decorations, trees or signs announcing the arrival of Santa Clause. It is not a national holiday, and so unless you work somewhere that caters to foreigners, it was just a normal day.
While in Beijing, it seemed the general acknowledgment was similar to that in Shanghai. If you stayed away from the stores and foreign-establishments, you might not even realize it was Christmas day. Occasionally we would see a "Merry Christmas" sign, a picture of a smiling Santa on a restaurant door, or a small tree in a window, but in most places it was not a big deal. We did get little gifts, on the train and at the restaurant, and that was it. And that is what Christmas is here, a Western, and often specially American, holiday of gift-giving, as noted by the American Flag ornaments (I didn't see any other flags). Not a big deal, just an opportunity to get a present (and who turns those down?), and embrace another aspect of American culture.
As for Christianity in China, it is not as underground as I thought it would be. No, you can not bring a suitcase of Bible's into the country, but there are churches everywhere, and some of them have congregations that consist of locals and foreigners alike. The rules/laws are different for foreigners than for locals, but Christianity is not illegal. I have met a few Christians here that attend regular (as in, not underground) churches, and are active in their Christian community. So far, they have not suffered overt persecution for their faith, that I know of anyway. I think that they exercise caution and moderation in all things, as will I. If you really want more information, you can "google" it, and be thankful that you are not behind a national firewall when you click on those links.
Well, back to preparing for finals.

1 comment:

Max said...

Thanks for the posting. You answered all my previous questions.

FYI, There was a pbs special on TV Wednesday night about China. There were sections that talked about religion (especially Islam, nothing much about Christianity.) The main focus of this part of the series was the life/struggle of Chinese women. Your really hit the nail on the head with the "Bad Taste" part of your collection of anecdotes in December.

Hope you are doing okay and that you studies are going well. Later